Pastor Delonte Gholston serves a distressed neighborhood in his native Washington, DC. Well credentialed, formerly employed as a community organizer, Pastor Gholston could easily minister in more comfortable, prestigious, and lucrative spaces. But, in describing his community ministry, peacewalks against violence, and commitment to the poor and disenfranchised, he told my class at Howard University, “Jesus goes where the pain is.”
The Scriptures for today speak of a Jesus who “goes where the pain is.” And if you are “where the pain is,” that is good news. Isaiah says Jesus comes “with righteousness to judge the poor and reprove with equity the meek of the earth.” (11:4). The Psalmist says Jesus “shall save the children of the needy and shall break in pieces the oppressor.” (72:4). If you are poor and needy, a child of the marginalized, the coming of Jesus is good news. If you are “where the pain is,” the coming of Jesus is good news.
What does Jesus bring? Jesus brings “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might.” (Isaiah 11:2) Surely that includes wisdom concerning how God will address “where the pain is,” and understanding of who lives “where the pain is.” Surely counsel includes the listening ear that precedes advice and might involves empowerment “where the pain is.” Jesus brings justice beyond retribution and equity toward restoration for those “where the pain is.”
To do this, Jesus brings his Presence. Jesus doesn’t send justice and equity, wisdom and counsel, Jesus brings it. Jesus shows up! How easy it is to send things to the pain filled places instead of showing up. How easy it is to show love “from a distance.” How easy is it for the church to become a referral agency, a donation center, or a charitable option. How easy it is to give without giving of self, send without showing up, hit “submit” without submitting.
Jesus doesn’t send resources. Jesus shows up with resources. His justice is tangible, his equity feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. His shoulders bear the government (Isaiah 9:6) and the infirmities of those “where the pain is” (Romans 15:1). His is not a self-referential altruism crafted to help him feel good about himself. In coming to bless others, he set an example for his followers to “please his neighbor for good to edification,” rather than to please himself. (Romans 15:2-3).
Jesus coming to “where the pain is” cost him something. His emptying of self (Philippians 2:7) left him not a vacuum, but in human form as a servant. From the heavenly palace to the heavy pain he comes to bear the burdens of the weak. Such a weight comes attached with reproach, stigma and shame (Romans 15:3), the same reproach the weak receive as “not strong enough,” the poor receive as “lazy,” the prisoner receives as “no good,” and the meek receive as “invisible.”
In Matthew’s gospel, John works to prepare the way of the Lord (3:3b). His clothing and diet scream “reproach.” His spirit discerns the pride of the religious who stand on status (We have Abraham as our father, 3:9a). To John, there is no correlation between religious status and “good fruit” (3:10b). Respectable religion and reproach clash.
Reparations is one important way of bearing burdens. If one rejects reparations, whether politically or culturally, one must come to grips that the solution to poverty, racism, sexism and all marginalities is to do nothing, go nowhere, or even repeatedly hit “send” or “submit.” Advent is about the coming of Jesus to “where the pain is.” How can the church bear his name without following him there? This is what reparations calls us to.
Reverend Jeffrey Brown, a preacher who has spent the bulk of his ministry in distressed neighborhoods, once addressed a group of college students on their campus near Boston. He read Matthew 25 which describes Jesus teaching on the judgement. Said Brown, “Many Christians read this passage, and try to figure out whether they are the sheep or the goats. Did they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned…” But Brown noted that those in the audience that day were the very populations contemporary Christians debate about helping. “They were the hungry, they were the naked, they were the sick…” For those “where the pain is,” Jesus’ words were not heard as a litmus test for faithfulness, they were words of hope. They heard, “Someone’s coming…. where the pain is.”
- Consider the places of pain in your life. What would you want Jesus to bring to you as he “goes toward the pain?”
- What keeps those in pain from disclosing it? Are there ways the church can create safe space for such disclosure?
- Are you willing to be the “legs” of Jesus and “go to the pain?” Are there certain pains you would avoid? Why or why not?
The Rev. Dr. Harold dean trulear
Meet the Author
Harold Dean Trulear directs Healing Communities USA, a ministry equipping congregations to minister to individuals and families affected by mass incarceration. A professor at Howard University, he teaches courses in applied theology and community studies. He has taught courses at a number of correctional facilities such as Sing Sing (NY), D.C. Jail, and Alexandria (VA) Detention Center, as well as having been a resident his local county jail on several occasions.. He is a member of several organizations of formerly incarcerated and justice involved persons working for justice reform including JustLeadership USA where he was a Leading with Conviction Fellow in 2017. Rev. Trulear is a graduate of Morehouse College and earned his Ph.D. at Drew University. He served as lead author or contributing editor to a number of publications including Ministry with Prisoners and Families and Healing Communities USA Training Manual. In addition, he is a member of Correctional Chaplains and Ministries International, The 805 Recovery Group and Phi Beta Kappa. He dedicates this book to his church and family who supported him when he was released from jail, and his seven grandchildren whom he prays will not make the same mistakes he made, and grow up in a more just and equitable society.